Coping with COVID-related Anxiety

How to deal with stress, fear and worry

By Katherine L. Muller, Psy.D., NCC Adjunct Professor and Clinical Psychologist ,

COVID-related anxiety

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it sweeping changes to our daily lives. From living under complete lockdown orders and then adjusting to various phases of re-opening, to being inundated with ever-changing news about health risks and safety, it is no wonder that anxiety is running high for so many of us. While there are no easy answers for exactly how to cope with the uncertainty of this “new normal”, research on the treatment of anxiety does offer us some guidance. Here are some strategies that may help you cope with anxiety during this stressful time 

RECOGNIZING AND ACCEPTING: It’s important to note that anxiety is a normal response to the stressors we’ve been living with the past few monthsAnxiety is our body’s way of preparing us for and responding to danger. As the COVID situation has unfolded over the last few months, our brains and bodies have needed to respond to the information we’ve been receiving and assess potential threat. It is hard to accommodate and adjust when a situation is constantly changing. What started as a short-term stress response hasfor many of us, become a long- lasting stress reactionWhile the stress of the COVID crisis is unlikely to change soon, we can work to help our brains and bodies live better with this stress. One coping strategy that may help is recognizing and accepting the changing face of this crisis. Instead of trying to assert some control or find a definitive answer to make us feel better, allowing ourselves to “not know” can actually offer our minds a chance to pause the constant stream of worry and concern. In turn, our bodies may also relax a bit, slowing down the anxiety cycle 

BUILDING TOLERANCE OF UNCERTAINTY: When we are uncertain and scared, we seek security ans reassurance. You may have found yourself reading multiple news reports, perhaps calling your doctor and asking for advice, or even meeting repeatedly with “Dr. Google” to review lists of symptoms. Alternately, you may have found yourself wanting to ignore the news or avoid dealing with the COVID situation altogetherThink back to when you last tried either of these methods: Most likely you were able to feel some relief from the anxiety, but it was fleeting. The very next news report you read or headache you experienced likely started the anxiety roller coaster again. If you were avoiding, the next mention of COVID may have started your heart racing. Reassurance and avoidance seem logical in the moment, but they are a trap. In fact, when we stop seeking certainty and sit with our worries and concerns, we begin to get used to uncertainty and it no longer frightens us as much. In anxiety treatment this is called "exposure" and it is an effective route to long-lasting relief from anxiety. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and it makes us nervous, but when we allow ourselves to be anxious, we are facing our fears. As we do this, we build tolerance for living with uncertainty. This is an incredibly important skill for today, but also for life in general.  

ENGAGING IN SELF-CARE: In times like these, where uncertainty is the only thing that is certain, self-care is one of the most effective coping strategies we can utilize. We need to re-build our coping resources and provide our bodies and minds with the rest and replenishment they need to sustain us through this crisis. Good nutrition, regular sleep, and having some downtime- whether that be video gaming, a Netflix binge, or knitting a scarfare essential. Regular exercise has also been shown to be helpful in managing stress and anxiety. Social contact is a form of self-care for many of us but COVID may preclude our usual methods of fulfilling this need. Reaching out to friends and family using social media and virtual tools like Facetime and Zoom can help. Mindfulness, either through formal practices such as yoga and meditation, or through a handy app on your phone, can also assist in building these self-care skills 

SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP: Large scale, long-term stressors like the COVID crisis may exacerbate pre-existing conditions like anxiety disorders and depressionThose struggling with anxiety could experience an increase in their existing symptoms. Those already dealing with depression may also experience an increase in their symptoms. Still others, who may not have had any symptoms prior to the pandemic, may find themselves experiencing excessive anxiety or a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Some people may not be able to leave their homes due to feeling paralyzed by fear; others may shut down or engage in significant avoidanceIt is important to know that help is available in the form of counseling or, in cases of significant distress, medication. Therapists can offer support and assist you in coping with anxiety and depressionReach out to your family doctor, contact counseling services at your school, or seek other treatment services in your community.  

Counseling Services for Students at Northampton Community College 
Are you dealing with anxiety about COVID-19? Or are you dealing with issues such as family and relationship concerns, body image, depression, academic performance, and alcohol and drug abuse? NCC's counseling office can help. 

Our professionally-trained counseling staff can provide you with short-term, confidential personal counseling. If you think you need longer-term therapy, our staff is skilled at making referrals into the community so that you can get the help you need. Visit NCC's counseling office on the web for more information and to find out how you can connect with a counselor via email, phone or video chat.

In this together